It didn’t take the Leesburg Town Council very long on Tuesday night to sign off on changes to the town’s sign rules, as well as a special exception application to pave the way for Costco’s expansion.
The council voted 6-0-1, with Councilman Hugh Forsythe absent, to adopt changes to Leesburg’s sign regulations that will bring them into compliance with a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
The Reed v. Town of Gilbert, AZ, opinion prohibited localities from regulating signs based on their content. The suit was brought on by a pastor to the Town of Gilbert, when he argued the town applied stricter regulations were placed on signs that displayed political or ideological messages. In the case of the pastor, temporary signs directing residents to church services were called into question. In the high court’s majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the town’s sign “code imposes more stringent restrictions on these signs than it does on signs conveying other messages. We hold that these provisions are content-based regulations of speech that cannot survive strict scrutiny.”
The town staff, in coordination with the Local Government Attorneys Association, determined while a sign cannot be regulated based on its content, regulating it based on location is fair game. This change means that signs are no longer listed in the town’s Zoning Ordinance by type—meaning no more regulations specifically for political or religious signs, for example—but instead all are lumped into temporary signs. Planning Commissioners extensively reviewed the proposed changes over a couple of months, ultimately recommending approval of the changes to the council.
The council also gave the thumbs-up to expansion plans for Costco on Edwards Ferry Road. The store owners sought to amend a previously approved special exception to allow it to expand by 6,100 square feet, about 4 percent of its total square footage. The building addition includes a 3,340-square-foot increase to the general retail sales area, a 1,920-square-foot increase to the cooler area, and an 840-square-foot increase to the tire store, adding one additional tire bay. The application also calls for 2,800 square feet of seasonal outdoor sales along the front side of the store facing Edwards Ferry Road.
Since the application’s initial public hearing before the Planning Commission on Oct. 6, when many residents of the nearby Edwards Landing neighborhood raised serious concerns about the potential negative impacts of the project, in terms of added noise. Costco made efforts to address those concerns, conducting a noise study and hosting a community meeting for nearby residents Nov. 15. In a way to allay the concerns, Costco agreed to install noise mitigation materials in the loading dock area, on the rooftop between the chillers and the residential properties, and on the interior walls of the tire bays. An 8-foot fence to deter trespassers into the neighborhood will also be built.
Mayor Kelly Burk, who attended the initial Planning Commission meeting when she was serving as its council liaison, commended Costco on its positive community outreach and proactive approach to finding solutions.
“The fact that you have no one here [to speak out against the application] says a lot,” she said to Costco representatives at Tuesday’s meeting.
The vote to approve the special exception passed by a 5-0-1-1 vote, with Councilman Marty Martinez abstaining and Councilman Hugh Forsythe absent. Prior to the vote, Martinez said he would be abstaining because he has family employed by Costco.